Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Force Awakens: The End of Star Wars As We Know It

I think most people came out of The Force Awakens feeling a mixture of joy and sadness. For me, it was mostly the latter, but for all the wrong reasons. Here's the thing: The Force Awakens is not a terrible movie, but in a way, that makes it all the worse. It's just not a Star Wars movie.

Sure, the trappings are there. A sandy, barren planet (Jakku, rather than Tatooine). A droid bearing a secret map. Gritty practical effects and quirky aliens and vast empty reaches of space. The entire galaxy hinging on the domestic troubles of one family. Harrison Ford. Carrie Fisher. Mark Hamill. But all of these details are in new hands, in a new universe, with a new style. Ross Douthat nailed it when he predicted the movie to be a massive work of calculated fan-service, much like the Marvel franchise.

[Mild SPOILERS regarding basic plot]

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

In Memoriam: Anthony Valentine

Anthony Valentine, who died two weeks ago, was one of my first TV crushes. Suave, reptilian, and utterly charming, his charisma swept my teenage self off my feet. Of course, it helped that he was British. I've always had a weakness for our Anglo-Saxon brethren. And even better, he was incredibly funny.

I was first introduced to Valentine through his portrayal of the dashing gentleman thief, A.J. Raffles, on DVD. The show was from 1977, and these days looks rather clunky and dated, but Valentine's performance remains a masterpiece, sparkling with wit and charm. The part was perfectly suited to his talents (Nigel Havers and Ronald Colman don't hold a candle): Raffles is Sherlock Holmes's evil twin - a genius cat burglar in Victorian England, his adventures chronicled by a bumbling, fawning sidekick - Harry "Bunny" Manders (Christopher Strauli). The two men swan about through high society, robbing the arrogant rich to give to the deserving poor (in this case, themselves), dogged by an intrepid, friendly, but stupid police inspector (in this case, Mackenzie), in stories written by a member of the Conan Doyle family (in this case, Sir Arthur's brother-in-law, E.W. Hornung).